31 pages 1 hour read

Frank O'Hara

Ave Maria

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1964

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Poem Analysis

Analysis: “Ave Maria”

“Ave Maria” takes its name from the Latin words for “Hail Mary,” a prominent prayer in the Christian belief system that addresses Mary, mother of Jesus. It is used to pray for intercession and to honor the great mother figure of the Bible. In practices of the Catholic church, it is often set to music. The title is effectively juxtaposed against the casual, secular quality of the poem that follows; it sets up an expectation for the reader that is immediately turned on its head. However, the title goes deeper than being a simple sleight of hand—it pays reverence to the influence mothers have in the lives of their children, and it represents the deep religious devotion the speaker has to the cinematic art, illustrating how going to the movies can be akin to a spiritual practice.

The poem begins in the first person with a desperate petition to mothers across the country: “let your kids go to the movies!” (Line 2). The separated opening line breaks immediately give the poem a question-and-answer format, which continues as the speaker makes their case. In the first several lines, the speaker takes different approaches to convincing the mothers of their argument. The first offers them a rare chance at freedom: “get them out of the house so they won’t know what you’re up to” (Line 3).